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In a way, you could say George Frederick Miller was the Lon Chaney of baseball. No, he wasn't a man with a thousand faces, but he seemed to have almost that many nicknames.

Of late, people tend to recall the 19th century ballplayer as "Doggie" Miller, and while that became one of his nicknames, it is misleading to identify him with it. For one thing, it has led to the misinformation that Miller was given the nickname because he raised dogs or had a particular fondness for them. In truth, dogs had nothing to do with this nickname, which stemmed from the same personal trait that produced his earlier nicknames that were popular while he played for the Pittsburg Alleghenys (soon to become the Pirates). And, yes, back in those days, people spelled Pittsburg without the "h" on the end.

Anyway, Miller owed his nicknames to his loud and abrasive voice, which could be heard all over a baseball stadium while he was playing or coaching at first or third base.

FOR MOST of his playing career, Miller was called "Calliope," with "Foghorn" a frequently used second choice. When I researched Miller by looking for newspaper articles, I had more luck calling him "Calliope" Miller than I did using "Doggie," which also produced fewer hits than "Foghorn" Miller.

"Calliope" appeared in newspapers in 1886, two years after Miller began playing for Pittsburg. "Foghorn" emerged in 1889, though "Calliope" remained more popular. The first mention of "Doggy" was in 1895, and the first "Doggie" spelling I noticed was in an 1897 article. Since then, folks have assumed that Miller was always called "Doggy" or "Doggie," and that's not true. More on that in a few paragraphs.

Miller was born in Brooklyn in 1864, and became a major league catcher 20 years later with Pittsburg, then a member of the American Association. Miller was small — about five-feet-six, weighing about 145 pounds — and avoided several obvious size-related nicknames because of his unusual voice, one people couldn't help but notice because he shouted throughout the game, teasing opponents and encouraging teammates.

MILLER BECAME a popular attraction in other cities. In May, 1887, the Boston Globe reported that Miller was a great favorite with fans of the Beaneaters.

"The little man is one of the liveliest players and best catchers that ever appeared in Boston," said the newspaper (whose writer was not identified). "With the visor of his cap cocked down over one of his diminutive ears, he looks as comical as one can well imagine. The Detroit Free Press man, who called Miller’s voice a “bray,” has no ear for music. There is nothing discordant about it. It has a ring as clear as a bell. President Soden christened the Pittsburg catcher 'The Musician.' " (Arthur Soden was owner of the Boston team.)

In a report of Pittsburg's win over Boston on July 8, 1887, the Utica Daily Press (and several other newspapers, I'm sure) carried a story that said, “Calliope” Miller’s coaching was a feature and helped win the game.”

The New York Telegram, on May 21, 1892, offered this comment: “Calliope Miller, of Pittsburg, whose voice is a trifle more crescendo than the brazen notes of the foghorn on the Government pier, would stop a team of runaway mules by merely talking to them ... Miller has a fearfully and wonderfully made voice. How the Pittsburg hucksters must envy him.”

(So wrote John B. Foster, a Cleveland sportswriter in 1892, but who would join the Evening Telegram four years later).

IT WAS LATE in the summer of 1892 — Miller's ninth season with Pittsburg — that another nickname was introduced. As was so often the case in baseball, it was something that happened in Brooklyn. Here's how it was reported in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on September 10, 1892, as part of the newspaper's coverage of a 5-2 win by the Brooklyn Grooms (shortened from the previous Bridegrooms) over the Pittsburg Pirates (the nickname that replaced Alleghenys in 1891).

“At Eastern Park, Calliope Miller is a thing of the past. Noisy Miller is lost and forgotten, while Foghorn Miller awakens no memories in the hearts of the bleachers. The old nicknames have had their day and have perished. It is now Bowwow Miller.

“While he was coaching yesterday, his deep bass voice sounded to one of the spectators very like the baying of a mastiff or a hound, and he commenced to bark at Miller. The other cranks [fans] immediately caught on, and every time Miller uttered a sound, he would be greeted with a chorus of bow wows from the bleaching boards, which caused him to turn and laugh, although the joke was on himself. During the biggest part of the game he was addressed as 'Bowwow' by the crowd.”

Notice there was no mention of "Doggy" or "Doggie." The newspaper's attempt to promote "Bow Wow" would fail, but by the time Miller finished his major league playing career in 1896, "Doggy" was being used in newspapers about as often as "Calliope."

On October 24, 1896, the Buffalo Evening News, in a column of baseball-related tidbits that were likely syndicated to newspapers all over the country, said Doggy Miller would be training dogs during the winter in Louisville. A month later, newspapers said Miller and pitcher Gus Weyhing were thinking about opening a saloon in Louisville.

Perhaps Weyhing was; not only did he pitch for Louisville for part of the 1896 season, it was his hometown. But Miller, a Brooklyn native, continued to live there. He had a wife and child. Perhaps he also had a dog, but as far as I know, he didn't raise them or train them. But the story never went away, and chances are, if you go looking for the reason he was named "Doggy" (or "Doggie"), you'll come across a website that says Miller loved dogs and owned several.

GEORGE MILLER was a versatile ballplayer. While a catcher in almost half of his 1,318 major league games, he also played at least 22 games at every other position except pitcher.

In 1890, a Cincinnati Enquirer story said, "When it comes to all around players, Buck Ewing, Yankee Robinson and Tony Mullane rank very high, but little Foghorn Miller, of the Pittsburgs, has this season established a big name in this line. Foghorn has hardly missed a game this season, and he has filled every position on the team except pitcher and first base. He has not been a 'dummy' either, in his many different roles, but has played in every place like he belonged in it. Foghorn is one of the greatest ball players in America."

That was far from true. Miller often was a liability at other positions, such as a game in 1892 when he played shortstop against Brooklyn and made four errors. His lifetime fielding percentage at shortstop in 83 games was .844, at least 50 points lower than acceptable for his era.

He finished his major league playing career with the Louisville Colonels of the National League in 1896. He'd spent the previous two seasons with the St. Louis Browns after he'd worn out his welcome in Pittsburg by batting just .182 in 1893. (He played only 41 games that season, catching in 40 of them.)

Incredibly, Miller followed that with the best hitting season of his career, leading the Browns with a .339 average. There must have been something in the air that season; Hugh Duffy of Boston set a major league record by batting .440, and six regulars on the pennant-winning Baltimore team batted .340 or better.

Miller was part of one of the strangest games of the 1894 season. On May 10, his teammate, Frank Shugart hit three home runs, one of them in the sixth inning. Miller followed with a home run, and another teammate, Heinie Peitz, also homered in the same inning. That's five home runs off Cincinnati pitcher Thomas "Tacks" Parrott, who hung around to finish the game and chalk up an 18-9 victory over St. Louis.

(A season later, Shugart, playing with Louisville, would tie a still-existing record of three triples in one game, two of them coming in the same inning.)

WHILE MILLER by any nickname was a comical fellow, he had his dark side. He drank a lot and lived hard, his major league career ending when he was just 31 years old. He continued to play in the minor leagues until he was 39, though by then he was most often found in the outfield.

He was at his worst on April 30, 1900, while playing for the Fort Wayne Indians of the Interstate League.

Chicago Tribune, May 1, 1900

FORT WAYNE, Ind., April 30 — [Special.] — A row resulting disastrously for Umpire Fred Cooke ended today’s game of ball between the home and Dayton teams. The game was poor all through, resulting in a score of 21 to 20 for the visitors.

In the eighth inning “Doggie” Miller of the local club tried to steal second base. He was caught by a Dayton player and the umpire declared him out. Miller took exception, and after an argument, Cooke fined him $5. This angered Miller, who shook his fist at the umpires and threatened to get even.

At the close of the game Miller accosted Cooke, and after a short discussion struck him in the face. Cooke knows how to fight and made a lunge at Miller, but a bystander held his arm and Miller struck him again, knocking him down. The player pounded the umpire severely before Sheriff Melching, who was in the grandstand, could interfere.

Miller was arrested and taken before a justice of the peace, where he gave bond for his appearance. He was fined $100 by the club management and suspended to await the action of President Powers. The work of Umpire Cooke has been unpopular with the attendants at the games, but Miller’s actions are also condemned.


Miller was suspended for awhile, but not only returned to action, but was named manager of the team before the season ended. (It must have been for his leadership qualities.) He remained manager in 1901 when Fort Wayne joined the Western Association, and in 1903 became manager of the Dayton team in the Central League.

AFTER THAT, his life became sad and tragic. In 1904. according to the Amsterdam (NY) Evening Recorder and Daily Democrat, Miller was offered a chance to play on the Amsterdam-Gloversville-Johnstown team in the New York State League, but after watching him work out, manager Howard Earl advised him to retire, at which point Miller secured a job as umpire in the league, apparently heeding the words of that old adage, "After you beat them, you can join them."

But early in the season Miller was summoned to his Brooklyn home because his wife, Eve, was in a hospital, threatened with losing her eyesight. Mrs. Miller did go blind. According to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, eye specialists said the loss was due to a sudden clotting of a blood vessel, and that no operation would restore her sight.

Five years later, George Miller died of kidney disease, at the age of 44. His widow, blind and with two children she was unable to support, wound up in the Counts Almshouse in Flatbush. Daughter Nellie, age 9, was taken to the Industrial Home; son George, only two years old, was taken to the Infant Asylum. (Interestingly, the story about the blind woman said she was the widow of "Foghorn" Miller.)

In 1917, the Daily Eagle received a letter from the Pittsburgh Pirates saying the team had been contacted by a woman in Fort Wayne, saying that Nellie Miller was her sister, and had been adopted by George and Eva Miller when she was an infant. The Fort Wayne woman was trying to locate Nellie to let her know a good home awaited her in Indiana, should she need one. I haven't found how this story turned out.

ADDITIONAL BITS: A Philadelphia Inquirer feature story about odd baseball records (July 5, 1908) included a cartoon of Doggy Miller, claiming he once had hit two home runs in one inning. This was not true. However, on June 6, 1894, a Pittsburg outfielder named Jake Stenzel became the third major leaguer (to that point) to accomplish that feat. Stenzel, who put up big numbers during his career, seemed to be underrated because he played in a hitter's era. For the season, he batted .352, with 13 home runs and 121 runs batted in.

My favorite Miller story was told by one of the most colorful players and managers from the late 19th and early 20th century, Hughie Jennings, who syndicated his recollections in newspapers in a series called "Rounding Third." On February 12, 1926, he had this to say in Chapter 51, which I found in the Buffalo Evening News. Miller is merely a supporting player in this story; the star is "Crazy" Schmit, described by Jennings as one of the oddest characters baseball ever produced. Schmit was born in Chicago, but his parents were German immigrants, and while "Crazy" spoke English, he did it with a heavy German accent which Jennings tries to capture.

"He was a left-handed pitcher with Louisville and I do not remember his first name. I doubt whether I ever heard it, come to think about the matter, for no one ever called him by any name except 'Crazy.'

"Schmit is the only pitcher I ever heard of who pitched by a notebook. When he started pitching, he sought to discover the weakness of every batter in the league. He made a note of it in this little book. He carried the book on the field when he pitched and would frequently turn to it during a game to discover what to pitch to the man at bat. He had a hard time trying to discover Cap Anson's weakness and asked several players what they thought it was. One of them seriously informed Schmit that Anson's weakness was a base on balls and Schmit made note of it in his little book.

"This is where the gag first started. It has been used in reference to Lajoie, Cobb, Wagner, Speaker, Hornsby and every good hitter since Anson's day, but Anson is the first player whose weakness was reported to be a base on balls.

" 'Doggy' Miller was catching for Louisville at the time and he had to catch Schmit. 'Doggy' agreed with Schmit on some of his dope, but he was at odds with him over portions of it. 'Doggy' knew that some of the information that Schmit had was given him in jest, and he tried to correct him, but Schmit never stood for corrections. He would keep shaking off 'Doggy's' signals until 'Doggy' called for the delivery the book designated. This used to get 'Doggy' riled up and he would start toward the pitcher's box to voice his protests. On these occasions Schmit would wave him back, saying:

" 'Lissen to me, Miller. You is noddings but a receiver. I is a deceiver; I pitches. You gatches. I pitches vot is in der book.'

" 'Long John' Reilly was playing first base for Cincinnati. He was a right-handed batsman. According to Schmit's notebook, 'Long John' Reilly was weak on an outside curve ball. That was true. Reilly was weak against a curve ball pitched on the outside by a right-handed pitcher, but Schmit was a left-hander and an outside curve ball pitched by a left-hander was 'gravy' for the right-handed batting Reilly.

"But Schmit kept giving him the curve and Reilly continued busting it. Schmit was told that he was pitching wrong to Reilly, but all he said was:

" 'It says oudside gurve in der book, and oudside gurve he gets. The book don't make no mistakes. Dot Reilly is shust a luggy Irish loafer.' "

I corrected two mistakes in Jennings' tale. For example, he'd misspelled Schmit's last name, and Reilly's. There were other errors or omissions I didn't correct. For example, Schmit's real first name was Frederick, and he never pitched for Louisville; he and Miller were teammates on the Pittsburg team in 1890, which was six years before Miller played for Louisville, and about four years before people called him "Doggy."

Schmit had a talent for joining teams about to have a terrible season. So it was in 1890 when Pittsburg won 28 games, lost 108, and finished in last place, 23 games behind seventh place Cleveland. So it's not surprising that Schmit's notebook didn't help him. He won one game, lost nine (though his one victory was a shutout).

Two years later Schmit was on the Baltimore Orioles team, a future dynasty, but at a low ebb in 1892, with a 46-101 record that put them in 12th and last place. Again Schmit won one game, but lost only four.

Despite winning three of five decisions to start 1893, Schmit was dumped by Baltimore, and wound up with the New York Giants. He lost his only two decisions, and spent the next five seasons in the minors, bouncing from Mobile to Troy to Grand Rapids to New Bedford to Norfolk.

He returned to the majors in 1899 to pitch for the Cleveland Spiders, a strong candidate for the worst baseball team of all-time. They won 20 games, lost 134, finishing in 12th (and last) place. Schmit won two games, lost 17. If he weren't crazy beforehand . . .

For his major league career, he had seven wins, 36 losses. It's a wonder he had so many chances, but baseball people agreed that his notebook was a good idea. Maybe he just went about filling it the wrong way.

Finally, this strange item: In 1915, a 22-year-old man who called himself "Doggie" Miller made news in Philadelphia by killing two police detectives who had arrested him for a burglary. His first name was Jacob, often called Jake. He confessed to his crimes, which the Philadelphia Inquirer said he committed while high on heroin. Miller was convicted and executed in an electric chair a year later.

I saw no mention of why the young man called himself "Doggie"; nor was there any reference to the late baseball player.

 
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